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Next Big Things

From creating cars that communicate with each other, to helping kids write their own books, to improvising medical devices worthy of MacGyver, these six innovators promise to change the way we live

Author TOM SAMILJAN

MEANINGFUL GESTURE
Inside Aviad Maizels’ quest to render your remote control deader than the VCR

As far as Aviad Maizels is concerned, the days of the traditional keyboard and remote control are numbered. The co-founder and CEO of PrimeSense, a Tel Aviv-based company that specializes in gesture-recognition technology, is particularly interested in making devices easier to use — and that starts with the interface.

It’s about time, he says, because gadgets have become increasingly complex. “The consumer electronics industry pushes so many new features into devices that people forget how to operate them,” says Maizels, who previously worked as the head of research and development at the Israeli Ministry of Defense. “It happened in mobile phones, and it happened in gaming.”

Maizels’ focus on user-friendly interfaces is one reason Microsoft chose PrimeSense to work on its bestselling Kinect controller, whose 3-D motion-sensor camera lets users play everything from racing games to Netflix movies just by moving their body. Now PrimeSense is developing next-generation gesture-based interfaces for smart TVs. “When you’re talking about 100,000 movie titles to choose from,” Maizels says, “surfing around your TV for content isn’t linear anymore,” which is another reason why interfaces and remote controls need to evolve.

Like the Kinect, which also has a voice-activation component, the ideal next-generation interface won’t just be gesture-based. “In the same way that people communicate face to face, it should be a mixture,” says Maizels, “something that replicates what we read from eye contact and facial expressions.” For an example, he points to the fictitious interfaces in Iron Man 2, which are essentially 3-D versions of an iPad touchscreen, allowing for grabbing, swiping and resizing of virtual three-dimensional icons and objects to control a computer.

The point, says Maizels, is that interfaces should let us use what we already know rather than force us to learn a series of commands. “Soon,” he quips, “machines will start to bow to humans.”

AVIAD MAIZELS / AGE 35 / FROM TEL AVIV / LIVES IN TEL AVIV / PREVIOUS GIG HEAD OF TECHNICAL RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT AT THE ISRAELI MINISTRY OF DEFENSE

SHORT STORIES
To get kids interested in learning, Sharon Kan had an idea: help them write their own books

After stepping down as CEO of her third startup (which had just been acquired by Microsoft), serial entrepreneur Sharon Kan took some time off. “I was figuring out what to do next, and then I got pregnant,” she recalls. A couple of years later, Kan noticed her daughter making up stories instead of reading the books in front of her at a local bookstore.

“The general thinking then was that adults are the storytellers,” recalls Kan. “But we know that kids are great storytellers, too.” With that in mind, in 2007 Kan hired a team of engineers from MIT to create software to help kids write their own books. The result is Tikatok, which provides these tools both at tikatok.com and in a series of boxed kits available at Barnes & Noble stores (the book retailer purchased Tikatok in 2009).

On virtual page after virtual page, kids are prompted to complete empty text segments (“Describe the car,” says the prompt on one page) and add pictures and illustrations. It’s like Mad Libs but with mini writing assignments, rather than random words, to fill in the blanks. “We provide a scaffolding element that gives hints so kids can choose characters or genre,” says Kan, “but that ultimately doesn’t take anything away from the stories they come up with. The idea is to prompt imagination and creativity.”

While accessing the site is free, turning a story into a hardcover book starts at $18 (paperbacks at $15). Titles are also available in e-reader form via the Tikatok Android app for the Nook Color for $2.99 each. Online versions of books can be shared on Facebook and Twitter; directly with friends and family; and on the Tikatok website, where a “Tikatok Picks” section highlights the latest and best examples.

Yes, there’s an e-commerce element, but the end result is a boon for budding creative writers. Tikatok is also teaming up with textbook publisher Pearson for Tikatok-powered books on social studies, science and other subjects; in this scenario, kids might write a book about, say, George Washington. “We want to help kids love to learn versus learning to pass a test,” Kan says. “I think this is where we need to make the change in our education system.”

SHARON KAN / AGE 42 / FROM TEL AVIV / LIVES IN BOSTON / PREVIOUS GIG CEO OF ZOOMIX

One Response to “Next Big Things”

  1. Paul Parisi Says:
    January 3rd, 2012 at 5:45 pm

    Sharon. Congratulations. You deserve the recognition and exposure this UA article will give you and Tikatok. Happy new year. Paul.

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